Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Blair's Legacy

A more comprehensive note on this topic is on my companion blog Politics Considered found via the margin link; so this is a much shorter meditation upon Blair's obsession with his legacy. Is it normal to be concerned in this way? Churchill was no doubt aware of his historic role when leading the nation's sole resistance to Hitler; Attlee though, was not the sort of person to project his thoughts towards how history will view him; Heath probably was over winning entry into Europe and Thatcher also-unique of her kind at the time- had an eye to how she would be perceived. Indeed it was said she viewed the Channel Tunnel as something of a legacy, though I've never seen it referred to as such. Maybe Max Hastings in Monday's Guardian was right when he said that people take little interest in such things and almost never feel grateful to Prime Ministers for their achievements.

I'm not sure that is wholly true; several chats with my older fellow citizens have reflected gratitude for Churchill's heroic role and also for Thatcher's achievements in taming the unions. But the general point is taken: voters tend not to do gratitude; revenge is more in their line. So will anyone be likely to thank Tony Blair and if so, for what? It's a little odd that initial thoughts on this question, fail to produce easy answers. I suppose he has: presided over a sound if not buoyant economy; raised well over a couple of million people- especially chidren and pensioners- out of poverty; introduced sweeping constitutional changes- though he seems not to regard these as especially worthy of note; he's done a huge amount to reduce conflict in Northern Ireland- only four people were killed in 2004; and he's poured money into public services, seeking maybe his most personal legacy: services worthy of a modern social democratic member of the EU.

Oddly,and frustratingly for him, the polls still show more than half of the country feel public services, while they have improved a little, are still not delivering a result commensurate with investment. Hence his somewhat desperate rush to make them acceptable to all before he leaves in the trails of glory for which he clearly hankers. Max Hastings argues, brutally, that Blair will be denied any such satisfactions. Premiers, he suggests are remembered more for their failures than their successes: Eden-Suez; Macmillan-Profumo; Callaghan- winter of discontent; Major- sleaze. Blair, he is sure will be rembered for Iraq:

'a war of choice not necessity... hubris has induced him to commit a folly more damaging to the national interest than any act of Major's. Blair is today struggling with increasingly clumsy haste to create achievements that will outlast his tenancy of Downing St. Yet events in Bagdhad negate them all and are beyond his control.'

Clearly, it seems to me, Hastings' analysis is correct. Having said that, most Prime Ministers having survived the punishing years Blair has, would and should be satisfied with what has so far been achieved. Alleviation of poverty, helping thousands buy their own homes, calming down the Protestants and Catholics- surely that's enough for a left of centre party leader? What does he want- canonisation? I suppose it can never be ruled out.

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